I've been out of town for days due to a friend's wedding engagement and was unable to watch UFC 90 live or comment at all from Friday until basically today. I read everyone's commentary, analysis and thoughts to the extent I could. I followed all the results before I watched the event yesterday, so to some extent I knew what I was getting into.
Or did I?
While UFC 90 certainly left much to be desired, I cannot square the vituperative language being hurled at Anderson Silva, the UFC or anyone else (aside from the horrendous referees) with what I witnessed last night in replay.
To be sure, UFC 90 was not a particularly stellar event. Nor did it do an even remotely sufficient job of hyping UFC 91's main event between Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar. I'd also add that for a Midwestern crowd I wasn't overly impressed with Chicago's fans, but perhaps there is a distinction between small town, wrestling Midwestern and metropolitan Midwestern. Be that as it may...
The analysis of this event by many pundits, commentators and other invested parties seems wildly off the mark. While I understand after every UFC event the rules of the MMA universe are tweaked and that generates a great deal of emotion and analysis, I can only surmise that some let the current of that new reality lead them into strange territory.
So what was right about UFC 90? A fair amount, actually.
Before I delineate what I enjoyed about the event, I have to first acknowledge the circumstances surrounding how I came to watch it very likely affected it. For starters, I did not watch it live and how you watch it matters. There is something to "being in the moment" that allows for more tension and expectation, which can ultimately affect opinion. And in the subsequent chorus of thumbs down from critics, one's opinion can be colored or slightly reshaped by the sheer volume of detraction. I also watched the event after learning the results and reading the analysis of various experts. As a consequence, I was not expecting much short of the dos Santos knockout or Sherk vs. Griffin scrap.
For starters, those two fights were quite enjoyable for obviously different reasons. Sherk vs. Griffin was a pitched battle between two evenly matched opponents with superb conditioning. And the emergence of dos Santos over the highly skilled and extremely tough Fabricio Werdum (which makes the KO even more spectacular) was something to behold. More importantly, both types of fights - close, entertaining decisions and quick, thunderous KOs - are both staples of good MMA cards. The unexpected massive upset in dos Santos over Werdum is nothing to sneeze at either.
Gray Maynard vs. Rich Clementi wasn't particularly great, but I did find myself enjoying the positional struggle. Clementi's very adept sweeps against a wrestler with fantastic base and good balance went unheralded in the post-fight reactions. While Clementi was more interested in creating space rather than reverse position, the battle nevertheless offered something to those who propose to be fans of ground fighting.
Need I defend Thales Leites' strangulation of Drew McFedries?
Josh Koscheck vs. Thiago Alves saw the very underrated and hugely improved Thiago Alves thwart every attack and position himself as the clear contender to Georges St. Pierre's crown. I thought Koscheck could've done more with a more wrestling-based game plan, but to say Alves' anti-wrestling has gotten better is to say St. Pierre's wrestling bag has some new tricks.
As for the main event, I confess the ending was wholly unsatisfying. The lack of offense from both fighters didn't make the meat of the rounds that engaging. But they weren't horrible either. This was not a repeat of Kevin Jordan vs. Gabriel Gonzaga or an early NHB fight with no time limit where a positional stalemate seemed as if it would never end. There was some action, albeit fairly sparse, and from what I can gather Silva had intentions of turning the heat up as the fight moved towards later rounds. What is clear to me, then, is not that there was much to hate or even much to like about the main event; there just wasn't much to it. There's truthfully very little to judge in such a way that a cemented opinion in either direction can be meaningful. Perhaps that is cause for consternation itself, but it doesn't move me to say so.
It's fair to have expected more from UFC 90. UFC 88 is a clear example of how the landscape of MMA can be changed with a single punch. And as aforementioned, a more precise rewriting of the MMA universe (as nearly every major UFC event does) would've left fans and pundits more satisfied. That, to me, is what is rubbing experts and fans the wrong way; the lack of clarity about which way to go, what it all means and why it all happened. The MMA community has come to expect finality and clear lines of demarcation in the aftermath of major events and that's simply not realistic. It's too simple to say that not every event is an epic thrill, but it is fair to say at times the stars seem to align in such a way that there is irreconcilable incompleteness or strangeness to an event. UFC 90 seems to be suffering from just such an affliction.
My recommendation is to simply be patient. UFC 91 has all the potential to offer the shake-ups and exciting newness that comes from the vast majority of major events. But to describe UFC 90 as something abysmal, awful, horrendous or unspeakable is hyperbole of the first order.
Just because there isn't much to talk about doesn't make what is available by definition bad.